Primary open angle glaucoma (OAG) is a multifactorial optic neuropathy characterized by progressive retinal ganglion cell death and associated visual field loss. OAG is an emerging disease with increasing costs and negative outcomes, yet its fundamental pathophysiology remains largely undetermined. A major treatable risk factor for glaucoma is elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). Despite the medical lowering of IOP, however, some glaucoma patients continue to experience disease progression and subsequent irreversible vision loss. The scientific community continues to accrue evidence suggesting that alterations in ocular blood flow play a prominent role in OAG disease processes. This article develops the thesis that dysfunctional regulation of ocular blood flow may contribute to glaucomatous optic neuropathy. Evidence suggests that impaired vascular autoregulation renders the optic nerve head susceptible to decreases in ocular perfusion pressure, increases in IOP, and/or increased local metabolic demands. Ischemic damage, which likely contributes to further impairment in autoregulation, results in changes to the optic nerve head consistent with glaucoma. Included in this review are discussions of conditions thought to contribute to vascular regulatory dysfunction in OAG, including atherosclerosis, vasospasm, and endothelial dysfunction.
Keywords: atherosclerosis; autoregulation; blood flow; endothelial dysfunction; glaucoma; vasospasm.